100 years of working life: Pittville occupations from 1841 to 1939

The Pittville estate was designed to attract both seasonal visitors to the new Pittville Spa and also wealthy people whom Joseph Pitt hoped would become permanent residents. Large villas were built in a setting of tree-lined walks, ‘ornamental pleasure grounds’ and, of course, the Spa itself.

Pittville Pump Room 1839, with lake, by George Rowe
The overall impression is of an elegant estate inhabited exclusively by a leisured class of resident. However, the census data tells another story and reveals the large numbers of working people living within the boundaries of the estate.

Rates of employment – servants vs other occupations

Over the hundred years covered by our analysis, the rate of employment remained fairly steady at around 50%.

Chart 1 – In-work compared to non-working: total numbers of residents
However, the total numbers conceal the true story of Pittville’s working population, which consisted mainly of hundreds of live-in domestic servants tending to the needs of the estate residents. In fact, from 1841 to 1881 over 75% of all Pittville jobs were in domestic service.

Chart 2 – Numbers of servants compared with other occupations and non-working
Domestic service remained by far the largest occupation throughout the first hundred years of Pittville’s existence. In 1841, 40% of Pittville residents were servants – i.e. there were two servants for every three resident occupiers. This ratio fell only very gradually – by 1911 there was still one servant for every two resident occupiers, but by 1939 this had fallen to one in every six people. Despite the gradual reduction in live-in servants in the early twentieth century, servants still made up nearly 30% of Pittville jobs in 1939.

Chart 3 – Pittville domestic service 1841-1939
Domestic service was the largest occupation for women in nineteenth-century Britain, and Pittville was no exception; in 1881, for example, only a quarter of men’s jobs were in domestic service whilst 90% of working women were servants.

Female servants were the engine that kept Pittville running and we will look at their lives in more detail in a separate article.

Occupation types and categories

Let’s turn now to the occupations of the non-servant working population. What sort of jobs did Pittville residents have?

The Pittville History Works census records list both “Occupation” and “Occupation Type”. “Occupation” records the names by which people designated their own jobs. As this is subjective, the same name can be applied to different occupations, various names can be applied to the same occupations, and several of the names can be vague and of doubtful interpretation. For this reason we have classified all occupations into “Occupation Types”, based on an official list of occupations prepared in 1911, creating data that is collatable and comparable.

For example, in 1861, George Thomson was living at Ellingham House, 79 Pittville Lawn, with his wife and eight children – as well as seven servants.

George, aged 56, had described himself as a “Contractor” in the census. This gives little information as to what type of work he did, but when we look at the occupation type we learn that he is a Railway Contractor.

George, aged 56, had described himself as a “Contractor” in the census. This gives little information as to what type of work he did, but when we look at the occupation type we learn that he is a Railway Contractor.

George died in Cheltenham in 1867.

The only other male Pittville resident working in the Railway sector in 1861 was Samuel Carrington, a “Railway Proprietor” living at 8 Pittville Lawn. His granddaughter Dora Carrington was a painter and decorative artist associated with the Bloomsbury Group, who had a long relationship with Lytton Strachey. In later years Dora’s parents lived at 328 Prestbury Road, where she was a frequent visitor.

For our analysis we have used “Occupation Types” and then further grouped these into eighteen categories, as follows:
  • Arts, including artists, musicians, authors, theatre
  • Agricultural
  • Building trades and labouring
  • Non-retail business including manufacturing
  • Craftsmen
  • Church and religion
  • Domestic Service, including gardeners, grooms, laundry
  • Education, including teachers, governesses
  • Healthcare
  • Hospitality, including hotels, inns, boarding houses, catering
  • Military
  • Miscellaneous services
  • Office work, inc. finance, clerical, legal
  • Personal services, including hairdressing
  • Public services, including the post office, council, libraries
  • Retail, including. food retail
  • Textiles, including tailors, milliners, etc
  • Transport, including drivers, carriers, portering
By analysing census data for Pittville we can create a picture of the main areas of employment, and see how these have changed over the hundred years covered by our project.

Chart 4 – Pittville occupational categories excluding domestic service 1841-1939

Looking at the data like this we immediately notice a number of groupings:
  • By far the biggest category is that of services supporting the day-to-day needs of the more well-to-do residents. This includes people involved in making and selling clothes (Textiles), people owning or working in local shops (Retail) and people providing accommodation (Hospitality).
  • The second grouping comprises occupations representative of the upper-middle class residents themselves, such as people listed as clergymen (Church and Religion) and those listed as army and navy officers, including the Indian army (Military). How many of these people were actively working is a question that we will look at in more detail later, along with those classified as having “private means” and therefore not needing to work. A third category in this grouping is that of the growing professional classes, including bankers, accountants, barristers, and solicitors (Office).
  • A further significant grouping relates to the people involved in the construction of Pittville. By 1860, 290 homes had been built across Pittville and the neighbouring area, and building continued with over 330 houses being completed in all by the end of the nineteenth century. This rapid expansion created enormous opportunities for builders, of whom many were also property owners (Building Trades). In addition the increasingly sophisticated homes of the Victorian era required craftsmen such as cabinet-makers, clock-makers, and marble-polishers to provide the sort of products that were in demand (Craftsmen).
Other significant areas of work included people involved in Education and – particularly in the twentieth century – increasing numbers of people involved in the manufacturing sector. For example, by 1939 there were forty people working in aircraft manufacture, due to the activities of two local companies: the Gloster Aircraft Company, which was established in 1917 in Sunningend, Cheltenham before relocating to Brockworth, and Aircraft Components Ltd, set up by George Dowty in 1931 to manufacture aviation subsystems.

Male vs female employment – introduction

As previously noted, domestic service was by far the largest occupation for women in Victorian England, and this was certainly true in Pittville. So although there appear to be quite a range of different occupations amongst Pittville residents, in reality most occupations were only open to men. The second thing to note is that due to the widespread use of domestic servants there were significantly more working females than males in Pittville.

1861 – Pittville female jobs by category (%)
Let’s look at 1861 in more detail as an example, to compare the differing worlds of work for males and females. For the reasons given above, this year’s census recorded nearly three times as many working females as males in Pittville. There were 596 women working as servants, with the only other category of any significance being the 36 women working in Textiles – as seamstresses, dress-makers, needle-women, and so on.

By contrast, we can see that the men had a much wider range of occupations. Of the 239 Pittville males in work in 1861, only 85 were servants, with nearly two-thirds in non-domestic service occupations.

Because of the marked gender differences in employment, these are now explored separately.

Female employment

Between 1841 and 1911 the proportion of working females who were servants fell only marginally, from 96% to 83%. By 1939 however, women could be seen in a far wider range of occupations. However, on closer inspection it becomes clear that for many women this was just a shift from paid to unpaid domestic work (typically work done within the family). The chart below illustrates how the reduction in Pittville servants was mainly matched by an increase in women staying at home.

However the large number of female servants shouldn’t be allowed to obscure some of the other jobs held by women during our 100-year period. As well as working as dressmakers and milliners (Textiles) and keeping lodging-houses (Hospitality), as we have seen in 1861, the other main areas of female employment were Education – as governesses and teachers – and in Retail.

By the twentieth century, and particularly after the social changes set in motion at the time of the Great War, Pittville women were also working increasingly in Healthcare jobs such as nursing, and by 1939 new roles had emerged as secretaries and typists (Office).

The full extent of women’s work is not always revealed by the data. Many women were involved in supporting the many family trading businesses but did not have official job titles. Here are some of the more unusual women’s occupations recorded in Pittville:

Railway-coach maker
Anne Shackleford became a part-owner of Shackleford’s Railway Carriages and Wagon Works on the death of her husband in 1857. The business had two sites in Cheltenham, one at the junction of Albion Street and Sherborne Place and the other adjacent to St James Station (now the site of Waitrose), and was a major supplier of rolling stock to the Great Western Railway. In the 1850s and 1860s it was one of the biggest employers in the town. In 1861 (the year that Anne, living at Laurel Lodge in Wellington Square, was listed in the Pittville census) they employed 214 men and 50 boys.

The firm was not without local controversy. It suffered two major fires, in 1854 and 1861, as well as industrial unrest in 1854 when seventy workers lost their jobs after protesting about their long working day (they wanted to reduce it from thirteen to twelve hours). Legislation to restrict the working day to ten hours didn’t come in until 1874, however, and the men were described by the Cheltenham Examiner as having “thrown themselves out of employment”.

There were also ongoing complaints from local residents about the amount of smoke and noise created by the works. For example, in 1863 Charles Brydges of St James’s Nursery complained that the smoke had blackened the plants and entered greenhouses. At the subsequent Magistrates’ hearing it was noted that the firm employed 400 men with an annual wage bill of £20,000, and it was fined a nominal one shilling.

It is not known how much Anne was involved in business decisions and how much was left to her stepson William, her co-owner. She continued to own the business until 1864, when she sold her shares to a Mr Henry Ford of Bath and the firm’s name was changed to Shackleford and Ford. It subsequently made a disastrous investment in Swansea and was declared bankrupt in 1867.
[Source: Eric Miller,Shackleford’s Railway Carriages and Wagon Works, Albion Street and St James’s” in Cheltenham Local History Society Journal 28 (2012)]

Another widow who took over her husband’s business was Sarah Whitcombe, who lived at 62 Prestbury Road. Her husband Arthur had started his business in London in the 1830s and is listed in the Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840.
[Source: British History Online]

Left: A furniture label advertising Arthur Whitcombe’s business
Right: A mid-19th century Arthur Whitcombe mirror sold by Bonhams in 2010
Arthur had described himself as a looking-glass manufacturer in the 1881 Pittville census, and an example of his work can be seen here. However, his work was clearly broader than this, and encompassed print-selling, picture-framing, gilding, and restoration, as can be seen by a surviving label (above).

Arthur died in 1890 and in the 1891 census Sarah was running the business with her son Algernon, describing herself as a “Printseller, Carver, & Gilder”. Sarah died in 1897, but the business continued well into the twentieth century; it was incorporated as A. Whitcombe & Co. Ltd. in 1920 and traded from 18 The Promenade for many years under the ownership of Edith F. Rutland of Prestbury Road.

Louisa Abrahall, born in Cork in 1820 and unmarried, lived at 67 Prestbury Road in 1891 along with her widowed stepmother, and is described as a preacher in the 1891 census. Her own description is that she was a “Mildmay Deaconess”. She appears in our house history for 67 Prestbury Road here.

The Mildmay Deaconess Institution was based in Islington and offered full-time careers for young women of good education. According to British History Online, women generally spent two years at Mildmay before going to outlying missions in London and elsewhere. Their theoretical and practical training was copied by other institutions and influenced 19th-century social work and later social science courses in universities. There were about 200 deaconesses at any one time, and their distinctive uniform allowed them to work in the roughest areas unmolested. Following an outbreak of cholera in 1866 the Mildmay nursing service was developed and in 1892 a purpose-built Mildmay hospital was opened in Shoreditch.

Mildmay Deaconesses: picture from https://www.mildmay.org/our-history
Despite being recorded in Pittville in 1891, Louisa soon returned to her calling and spent the rest of her life living in the Deaconess Institution in Mildmay Park, Islington, where she died in 1925, at the age of eighty-one.

Mildmay still exists today and is Europe’s only centre dedicated to the rehabilitation of people living with HIV-Associated Neurocognitive Disorders (HAND). Find out more here.

Builders’ Merchant
In 1901 the Bence family, owners of the well-known builders’ merchants George Bence & Sons, lived at 59 Portland Street. All of the family were involved in running the business, including George’s wife Mary who was a Director. Daughter Edith, aged 24, was the company secretary and another daughter Mary, aged only 14, was a book-keeper and clerk.

George died in 1906 and his sons Thomas and Arthur took over the running of the business. By 1911 only the two Marys, widow and daughter, are left at 59 Portland Street. Edith has married Sidney Grove, a printer and bookseller and is living at Harp Hill. None of the three women are recorded as having occupations.

Male employment

Men had a much wider range of occupations than women. Domestic Service was still a very significant source of employment, starting at 44% of working men in 1841 but falling steadily as a percentage due to both a decline in servants but mainly an increased population of males in other occupations.

Let’s look now in more detail at those other occupations over the period 1841 to 1911. 1939 has been excluded and will be covered separately, due to the large increase in numbers employed.

It is interesting to note that popular occupations changed little during the seventy-year period from 1841 to 1911. The most significant areas of occupation in every census, with little exception, were Retail, Office Work, and Building Trades. Pittville lives in these three occupational areas will be explored in more detail in separate articles.

Numbers in some occupations, though, did change over time and the most significant areas of change were Military, Church and Religion, and Non-Retail Businesses.

Military occupations

By 1841 Cheltenham had become a popular residential town, particularly for military families, many of whom had served in the Empire. Many of the new residents of Pittville also had military backgrounds, whether as retirees or still-active members of the services.

Indeed the difference was often moot due to the tradition of half pay, which allowed officers of the British Army and Royal Navy to be put into semi-retirement during periods of peacetime, when fewer commands were available. This ensured that the officers would be supported while they waited to be recalled to active duty.

  “Officers were not automatically entitled to a pension until 1871. Before then, when officers retired they sold their commissions or went on half pay.”

Many Pittville residents recorded with military occupations appear, from their ages, to be in the category of half-pay or semi-retired. Also, their recorded “Occupation Type” was often too broad to show their category of military employment.

For example, in 1851 twelve residents were recorded with Occupation Types “Army Officer” which implied active service in the British Army. But when you look at the detail, five were Indian Army (IA) of whom four appear to be retired, four are listed as on Half-Pay (HP) with research uncovering that a fifth – George Schreiber, a veteran of Waterloo – had been on half pay since 1821, although this wasn’t noted on the census (see article here). This leaves only two possibly active officers in the British Army out of the 12 listed.

For this reason the data in the following chart on Pittville residents claiming Military Occupations gives a flavour of the variety of military backgrounds but needs careful interpretation.

Of interest is the large number of residents who were ex-Indian Army. Find out more about their history and read some short biographies here.

To find out more about residents of Pittville that served in the First World War, follow this link.

Church and religious occupations

On a smaller scale but still in significant numbers were the number of male residents recording a clerical occupation. This peaked in 1881 with 17.

First, a bit of background. Each Church of England parish would have an “incumbent”, who might be a vicar, rector, or a curate-in-charge, and who was in responsible for the parish’s spiritual well-being, the “cure of souls”. He held the “benefice” with its income, mostly derived from parish land.

However, from the 17th century onwards, many more clergy were ordained than could be provided with permanent benefices and the situation became worse when non-university training became possible following the foundation of the first theological colleges at the start of the nineteenth century. The clerical professions suffered from what might be termed “overstocking”. Oxbridge graduates in the profession were often provided with livings by their college, but non-graduate clergy from humbler backgrounds suffered the most, finding secure benefices, a regular income and advancement difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. (https://www.familysearch.org/en/wiki/Clergy_of_Church_of_England)

Elsewhere benefices, or roles attracting income, were awarded by the Church without any corresponding responsibility for the “cure of souls” – the origin of the word “sinecure” which endures today. However, there is little evidence that many of the Pittville residents with clerical occupations fell into this category in the period up to 1881.

Sinecure benefices were mainly abolished by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners Act of 1840 which required all such positions to be “suppressed” on falling vacant. (Ecclesiastical Commissioners Act 1840 Chapter 113 clause XLVIII) The Incumbent Resignations Act of 1871 also created the provision for retirement with a pension on the grounds for ill health.

In addition to the Church of England, Nonconformist churches together with Catholics were of equal significance in terms of numbers of followers. These included Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, Quakers, Methodists and Unitarians.

1881 Religious Occupations – a year in detail
In 1881 there were a total of 19 residents recorded with religious occupations. These broke down as follows:

Scripture Readers
In 1871 George Smith, living at 69 Prestbury Road (then 2 Selkirk Parade) was listed as a “Scripture Reader”, someone employed by the clergy to go from house to house reading parts of the Bible to try to encourage people to attend church. This role was more “humble” than the official clerical positions and George, born in 1832 in Northleach, was the son of an agricultural labourer. In 1851, aged 18, he was employed as a servant at Sherborne Hall near Northleach, and he subsequently moved to West Derby in Liverpool to work as a gardener.

Selected clerical biographies

You can read biographies of most of the Pittville resident clergy on our website by clicking on the relevant names. Here are some examples.

>Disney Robinson lived at 10 Evesham Road in 1851. Occupation: Incumbent of Woolley, Yorkshire. M.A. A wealthy Anglican clergyman who became the Perpetual Curate of Woolley, between Wakefield and Barnsley, 1833-68. Whilst living in Pittville he paid assistant curates to perform his parochial duties and was found guilty of libel for referring to his neighbour “Mrs. Barker, Sabbath-breaker and adultress”. Find out more here.

Henry de Romestin lived at North Hall on Pittville Circus in 1871. Occupation: M.A. Oxon. Priest without Cure of Souls taking pupils. Born in Paris, he was part of a scandal in 1856-7 when he published a “pro-Pope” hymn book, subsequently living and working in Germany for over ten years before returning back to the Church of England. Find out more here.

John Edwards, later John Baghot de la Bere, lived at 67 Pittville Lawn in 1881. Occupation: Clergyman Church of England without Cure of Souls, Interest from Land. Previously he was Vicar of Prestbury. Read more here.

Reginald Consterdine lived at 51 Prestbury Road in 1891. Occupation: Curate of Holy Trinity, Cheltenham. He previously spent seven years as a missionary in Japan arriving there only twenty years after the lifting of the 250-year ban on Christianity. Read more here

Non-retail business including manufacturing occupations

This is probably the most fascinating occupational category of our analysis as it most succinctly illustrates the changing nature of work over the 100 years. By 1939 there were 89 – or 23% – of all Pittville male working occupations in this category but in 1841 only two – a Printer and an Iron Master.

1841 – An ironmaster’s story
Charles (Chas.) Harford, who originated from a long line of Bristol-based Quakers involved in establishing blast furnaces, was recorded as an “Iron Master” in the 1841 census. His great-great-grandfather Charles was linked to Abraham Derby, another Bristol-based Quaker seen as one of the most influential manufacturers of the Industrial Revolution. But it was his grandfather James Harford who established the family fortunes. He was one of a group of Quaker ironmasters from Bristol who leased the Melingriffith Works from Lady Windsor in 1770 and, having formed Harford Partridge & Co. in the 1770s, went on to acquire numerous other interests. [Source: https://journals.library.wales/]

By the 1790s Charles’s father Richard Summers Harford was driving the growth of the business, acquiring and merging the Ebbw Vale and Sirhowy Ironworks. Between 1805 and 1830 annual production increased from 3,664 tons to 26,020 tons of pig iron. [Source: https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/James_Harford]

Charles also joined the family business and by 1828 was Managing Partner of Ebbw Vale Co. The following years heralded the start of the railway era. Ebbw Vale Works was well equipped to supply rails for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway and the Stockton and Darlington Railway. A tunnel for a horse-tram road was driven for over a mile under the hillside to the Sirhowy Works, enabling iron to be brought to the Ebbw Vale forge speedily. [Source: https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Ebbw_Vale_Ironworks); this is still known as “Harford’s Tunnel” http://www.welshcoalmines.co.uk/forum/read.php?4,88407,89082]

In 1839 a fourth furnace was built and by 1842 the business employed 2 -3,000 workers. Charles, in his early forties and still occupied with the business, was living at Northumberland Villa, 19 Pittville Lawn, at this time with his wife and two infant children.

Abersychan Ironworks, 1866, run by the Ebbw Vale Co., 1852-83
Picture: https://museum.wales/
His good fortune did not continue, however, and the iron business was severely damaged by defaults on credits in Maryland, USA, which led to the bankruptcy of Harford, Davies and Co. in 1842. [Source: https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Charles_Lloyd_Harford]

The Ebbw Vale Ironworks was taken over by Trustees and in 1844 it was sold to Abraham Derby IV & partners – a descendant of the original Abraham Derby who had been associated with Charles’s great-great-grandfather back in the seventeenth century.

Charles left the business and in 1851 was occupied as a Magistrate. His lifestyle didn’t appear to suffer from the bankruptcy and he spent the remainder of his days living at the very grand Evesham House on Wellington Road, where he and his family were looked after by five servants. On his death in November 1882 he left £68,975 – nearly £9m in 2022 values.

Looking at overall numbers in the non-retail business category we can see that up until 1881 these were negligible. In fact the only consistent role was the Lessee/Manager of the Pittville Spa.
However, from 1881 numbers gradually increased.

The rise of Engineering

The most significant “new” Pittville occupation in 1881 was engineering, with four residents now working in this area. This was in line with the great growth of infrastructure projects, particularly railways, during the mid-Victorian period. During this period the occupation of Civil Engineer moved away from Samuel Smiles’s description of “men of humble station, the most part self-educated” and became accepted as a new profession that was suitable for gentlemen.

In 1881 Henry Dibble Chester, a non-practising surgeon, moved into Selkirk Villa (now Tresmere) on Pittville Circus, along with his Mexican-born wife Paula and six of their thirteen children.

Henry was born in Redruth, Cornwall and after qualifying as a surgeon he decided to join the many residents of Redruth who had moved to Real del Monte, Mexico to make their fortunes in the silver mines there. These had fallen into poor repair by the 1820s and a group of “Gentlemen Adventurers” decided to take the expertise from the Cornish tin mines and use it to make their fortunes investing in the silver mines of Mexico. More than 130 engineers and miners from Cornwall were recruited and it’s possible that when Henry initially went out in 1837 it was in his capacity as a surgeon.

He soon met and married Paula de Soza and all thirteen of his children were born there. Here he is seen with his wife and three youngest children.

(Picture: www.kittybrewster.com)
Whatever his original reason for travelling to Mexico, Henry stayed for thirty years and became a speculator himself, and a founding director of the Capula Silver Mining Company, established in 1862.

Investors Chronicle and Money Market Review, 18 January 1862
Fascinatingly, Real Del Monte (now called Mineral del Monte) still values its Cornish heritage, which remains visible in local architecture; many local residents are proud to have English names, and Cornish pasties are considered their national dish. Read more about the intriguing history of the Cornish in Mexico here.

Henry’s four unmarried adult sons living at Selkirk Villa in 1881 reflected the growth of professional trades in the late nineteenth century; there were two civil engineers (James, aged 28, and Alfred, aged 23), a brewer, and a medical student. James died in September 1882, at the age of only thirty.

Let’s look in more detail at Alfredo Benigno Alex Chester (later anglicised as Alfred Alexander Chester), number 11 out of the 13 children, born 13 February 1858 in Real del Monte, who can be seen rear right in the family photograph.

Alfredo was an articled pupil to Mr G. Wells Owen, Civil Engineer between 1878 and 1881. In 1882 he worked under the engineer of the Severn & Wye & Severn Bridge Railway and during 1883-4 was involved in the proposed Guayana Railway in Venezuela – firstly as assistant surveyor and subsequently as Chief Surveyor. He was admitted into membership of the Institution of Civil Engineers on 3 February 1885.

Alfred, who remained single, continued living with his mother at Selkirk Villa. He died in October 1900. Mother Paula lived to the age of ninety-two and was buried in the same grave as her sons at St Mary’s, Prestbury.

By 1939, ten male residents were described as engineers, with roles such as mechanical engineer, electrical engineer, aircraft engineer, and production engineer.

Andrea Creedon
January 2022

Further Reading

To find out more about particular occupations in Pittville please see our separate articles:
  • Domestic Servants in Pittville
  • Retail and Textile Occupations in Pittville
  • The rise of Office Work in Pittville Occupations
  • Building Trades and the Building of Pittville
  • Pittville Employment changes in the 20th Century – 1939 Occupations
* Barbara King, PGSG: A history 1905-1946 Cheltenham’s Other Girls’ School (1990)